Informatics includes hardware, design and modelling relating to large-scale integrated electronics and information and communications technology (ICT). Ever greater miniaturisation has been the key to developing faster, cheaper and more portable systems in informatics. ‘Moore’s Law,’ which says that the power of computing chips doubles every 18 months or so, describes our continuing ability to make semiconductors, and therefore the systems based on them, more powerful. While there have long been suggestions that the era of Moore’s Law is coming to an end, microelectronics has so far sustained this pace.
Silicon Technology and Silicon Microelectronics - What Does the Nano Future Hold?
Silicon technology will, however, within the next 10 to 15 years enter a new ‘near-molecular’ regime - as feature sizes approach 25 nm for example. This could slow, or even curtail, the rapid progress of silicon microelectronics in which the fundamental science and not just the manufacturing technology changes, and we will need radically new approaches. Some nanotechnology will begin to impact much earlier than this, particularly in photonics where miniaturisation is already more constrained by physics.
How the Disruptive Technology of Nanotechnology Can Improve Applications in Informatics
A disruptive technology will then be required to continue performance improvements in informatics. Nanotechnology in many forms could be essential for the further development of more powerful and faster information-handling equipment. For example, the move into the nano regime will result in circuits based on single-molecule and single-electron transistors. These will appear first in special applications. It will take novel complex architectures, materials, gate designs, interconnects, and so on to accommodate these new devices. We will also need radical new solutions to the problem of cooling and circuit power management.
Disruptive Technologies such as Quantum Information Processing (QIP) and ‘Bottom Up’ Methods
One disruptive technology could arise from the successful implementation of quantum information processing (QIP). Another disruptive technology would be ‘bottom up’ technologies. While these have the potential to be immensely important in the longer term, they are not likely in the near future.
Potential Industry Applications for Nanotechnology in the Field of Informatics and Electronics
A number of applications outlined below exemplify the potential for nanotechnology in informatics.
Photonic Crystals and Photonic Integrated Circuits
Photonic crystals and photonic integrated circuits could pack in individual components a million times more densely than conventional ones. The tighter confinement and novel dispersion properties also open up many new applications, particularly for nonlinear (optical) devices and very low power devices.
Quantum Information Processing (QIP)
Quantum Information Processing (QIP) crosses the disciplines of quantum physics, computer science, information theory and engineering. The aim is to harness quantum physics to dramatically improve the acquisition, transmission and processing of information. The role of nanotechnology is fundamental to such exploitation, because quantum effects appear on small length and time-scales.
Quantum Dots and Bio-Nanostructures
Semiconductor nanostructures such as quantum dots and bio-nanostructures have enormous potential for providing the basic machinery for QIP. Possible applications range from biological sensors, ultra-fast optoelectronic switches and computers, through to future generation applications involving the control of biological processes at the cellular level, and desktop QIP devices such as ultrasecure cryptographic systems.
Quantum Structure Electronic Devices (QSDs)
Quantum structure electronic devices (QSDs) can confine electrons into regions of less than 20 nm, enhancing their performance. Epitaxial growth can create one-dimensional confinement, producing ‘quantum well’ structures. A principal aim of nanotechnology is to produce three-dimensionally confined QSDs, for example, quantum wire and quantum dot devices. Some devices are already successful such as: quantum well lasers for telecommunications; High Electron Mobility Transistors (HEMTs) for low noise, high gain microwave applications; and Vertical Cavity Surface Emitting Lasers (VCSELs), for data communications, sensors, encoding and so on. Other applications, such as quantum dots, are on the brink of commercialisation.